Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Crossing the Bar" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

In regards to the context of "Crossing the Bar", Tennyson's imagery describes a speaker's accepting attitude towards death. At the beginning of the poem, when it says "one clear call for me!", the speaker is being called to pass on. The sand bar itself is the barrier between life and death, and when he speaks of crossing it he is referring to crossing over into heaven. It was in the last two lines that I found religious references as well. In heaven, the speaker wants to see his "Pilot" which is used as an alternate word for God. I think there is also further significance to the word "cross" because Jesus died on the cross and the speaker is using an analogy with the same word to signify his own death. Although it could be a coincidence, I saw a connection between the two. One last important detail I saw was that the speaker wished for a peaceful death. He said that he didn't want his friends or relatives to cry or mourn for him after his death, and wanted "no sadness of farewell" because he would be at peace with the situation. He wanted them to take comfort in the idea that he is going to be carried beyond time and space to be reunited with his Creator.

"Getting Out" by Cleopatra Mathis

"Getting Out" was a poem about the trials and tribulations of a failed marriage. Since this is such a prevalent issue in today's world, I found the poem easy to identify with as a reader. As the speaker relived the experiences of her diminishing marriage, the language and tone of the piece described the range of emotions she was feeling at the same time. At one point, her anger was apparent when she mentioned how her and her husband "paced the short hall, heaving words like furniture". To me, that was a powerful statement because it showed that the extent of their verbal arguments had reached its peak. However, at another point, the tone took on a more hopeless feeling. "Every night another refusal, the silent work of tightening the heart. Exhausted, we gave up..." And yet, in the last stanza the speaker recalls how they cried on the final day of their marriage when they made the divorce final. The ending of the poem evokes a sense of sadness as well as stirring sympathy for the man and woman as they struggle to leave one another behind. The fact that they could not let go of each others' hands immediately shows that they tried desperately to make their marriage work but in the end realized that love was no longer enough. Even though they still cared for one another, they accepted that the best decision was to leave before the situation grew any worse. The poem was sort of sad overall, but I thought that it was a good demonstration of some of the conflicts that individuals encounter when facing the prospect of divorce.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"The Oxen" by Thomas Hardy

The tone of this poetic piece was more dismal because it centered around concepts of skepticism and loss of hope. Furthermore, there were also significant allusions to Jesus's birth and the Christian faith within the context of the poem. As a child, the speaker was told by an "Elder" that the oxen would kneel to Jesus at midnight on Christmas Eve because they knew that the child in the manger was special and worthy of respect. Since he was young, he never considered doubting such a wise and trusted individual, but as he grew up he began to lose his belief and become skeptical. Without realizing it, this is what happens to many people as they grow in understanding of the world around them. Eventually, many of their childhood beliefs slip away and are replaced with ones based on concrete facts. Likewise, Hardy linked this theme of the loss of hope in childish superstitions to the general idea of the loss of Christian faith during the time it was written. People had begun to stop believing in God and were questioning the meaing of life. This led to a weaker foundation in the Christian faith altogether. Near the end, Hardy concluded the poem on a much more hopeful note than he began it with. He revealed to the reader that he hoped that one day he would have reason to regain his childhood belief (or regain faith if taken literally) of the oxen kneeling to Jesus on Christmas Eve. He "hoped it might be so" that they in fact truly did kneel in real life. I think that this hope also parallels the speaker's idea of the Christian faith. Along with hoping for the superstition to be correct, he was also hoping for society to regain their belief in God.

"My mistress' eyes" by William Shakespeare

The tone of this poem is very unique in the fact that it is a love sonnet which emphasizes negative qualities rather than exemplifying ones of beauty. Normally, these kinds of poems are professions of the speaker's love in greatly exaggerated comparisons. He might say something like his lover's eyes "shine like the sun", or that her hair is "soft as silk" - comparisons that every reader knows are stretched to flatter the woman he is referring to. In Shakespeare's poem; however, he does not romantically exaggerate his wife's attributes at all and instead chooses to describe her exactly as she is. By doing this, Shakespeare is implying that he does not have to write of extravagant qualities like other poets do to express his love. From lines 1-12, the tone of Shakespeare's words must be analyzed carefully. Although he is not exactly complementary at the beginning of the poem, the intent behind his words prove that he loves her completely the way she is. Regardless of the fact that there are prettier things out there, he still loves his wife unconditionally. Near the end, there is another tone shift in which the speaker makes a comparison of himself to other men. He says that his love is just as special as a man's who sings his wife's praises and isn't always truthful to make her feel beautiful. The fact that he chose to verbalize his love for her in an atypical way does not make it any less valid or meaningful, it merely makes it different. The tone of this poem is contradictory but loving.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"next to of course god america i" by E. E. Cummings

When I saw the author of this poem, I was actually a little excited to read it. I've heard that he is a phenomenal writer, and I am aware that many of his works are considered classics. What I liked most about this poem was how different it was. The way it was grammatically structured was by far different from all of the others. There were no spaces or pauses, almost forcing the reader to speed up as they read. The tone of the speaker sounded excited and passionate, and as the reader I could visualize a person picking up speed while talking to try and cram in everything they wanted to say. This poem was filled with random patriotic phrases like "oh say can you see by the dawn's early", or "my country 'tis of", which were both fragments and allusions towards well-known patriotic songs in our nation's history. By the end, I had sort of gotten the vibe that this was a satirical piece aimed towards politicians. It appeared to me that E. E. Cummings was making fun of people who spout off patriotic cliches and make grand speeches to the public. I can't say that I disagree with him because, let's face it, to be honest politicians are an easy target for criticism. The last thing I found intriguing was the title. Through the title, the speaker makes is a poem of direct address towards America hinting that he loves it next to God himself. That's a rather strong committment I'd say. I'm curious as to whether that was a further part of the satire and whether he was making fun of a politician's proclaimed love for his country or not.

"Much Madness is divinest Sense" by Emily Dickinson

As usual, Emily Dickinson's poetry was a little out there. This poem, however, completely centered around a paradox between sense and madness. In the opening lines, "much madness is divinest sense to a discerning eye, much sense the starkest madness", she immediately starts with a cryptic message. Basically, Dickinson is saying that it is mad to have sense and that it is sensible to have madness. She talks about how the majority of people have sense, but then hints that she does not agree with the majority. This isn't particularly hard to believe considering she seems to write poetry about insanity quite frequently. By "assenting" to become part of this majority, she says that a person is sane. If an individual objects to do so, then they are mad. In the context of the poem, it sounds as though she is criticizing those who assent with the majority. It appears that Emily is criticizing society in this poem and the people who enforce the way it works. She says that those who possess sense are all conforming to society and its practices and anyone who disagrees is treated like a crazy person. Think about Galileo Galilei, who had the idea that the earth was round hundreds of years ago. Even though he ended up being right, he was treated as a heretic at the time. The speaker says that if we never listen to new ideas of people, we'll never grow as a society. As I've learned from history, this statement is quite true.

"Barbie Doll" by Marge Piercy

I found this poem interesting because I connected with the concept of it. The author is demonstrating the superficiality of society and criticizing its general effects on the people. I liked how in the first stanza it said, "This girlchild was born as usual and presented dolls that did pee-pee and miniature GE stoves and irons and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy." Through this stanza it connected the reader with the speaker because it related her as a little girl to all children. When we are little, parents buy us all kinds of toys that we don't really need but are the latest and greatest of what's out there. Ordinary baby dolls that can make noise and fake food that is scented rather than just plastic or some sort of new craft that is on tv...The list is endless. When the speaker mentions the "magic of puberty" in the first stanza, she is being ironic because normally puberty is what makes a girl turn into a woman and become prettier. In this case, all it did was make the speaker more self-conscious about her body and try harder to change everything about herself. She changed from her "healthy" self and was "exhorted to come on hearty, exercise, diet, smile, and wheedle." As she was laying in her casket, I almost felt bad for her by the author's description of the scene. Everyone was commenting on how pretty she looked at her funeral and it made me realize that she did not get everyone's approval until after her death. It was disappointing realizing how much truth there was to this poem linked to society today.

"APO 96225" by Larry Rottman

In this poem, I was struck by a few main concepts. To begin with, it greatly paralleled The Things They Carried in my opinion. Because of the speaker's emphasis on the ignorance of the American public, I found the links that much more noticeable to our summer novel. For instance, Martha Cross would hardly ever mention the war at all in her letters to Lieutenant Jimmy Cross. She clearly knew what was happening but instead of comforting him she would merely avoid the subject entirely. In contrast, the poem utilized dramatic and situation irony when concerning the American public. Since most readers are aware of the harsh realities of a soldier's life at war, it was dramatically ironic that the speaker kept responding about positive aspects rather than the upsetting ones about war. When his mother asked him what war was like he answered that "the sunsets here are spectacular!" This showed dramatic irony because the soldier was being facetious. War is an ugly and violent circumstance and he did not want his mother to worry about him. As readers, we know that the speaker is being untruthful for the sake of his parents. I also liked how the poem was grammatically structured. While I was reading it, I got the feeling that I was reading a story or a collection of little letters. I liked how the structure mirrored its main concept.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Toad-al Downer

The entire subject matter of the poem "Toads" by Philip Larkin centered around concepts of work and social classes. The speaker was a poorer middle-class citizen who wished he was rich and could escape the constraints of the work force. Through figurative language, he made a comparison between what I consider "the man" and a toad. He also talked about his unhappiness with his situation. The speaker finds it unfair that he has to work for everything he has while the rich people have it easy in life and do not have to work hard for their lifestyles. The following lines in the second stanza prove his opinion on money and working:
"Six days of the week it soils

With its sickening poison -

Just for paying a few bills!

That’s out of proportion.
The word poison is what stuck out to me the most in that small passage. By equating money with poison, the speaker is showing how much he dislikes it. I suspect he dislikes the effects it creates more than he hates actual money itself, but nonetheless is was a powerful statement. In the context of the poem, it seems like the speaker is stuck in his predicament and cannot find a way out of his forced working lifestyle. He hints that he wishes he could say something to his boss, but that he can't afford the risk because it would mean losing his job and source of income. These thoughts come to life when he imagines what it would feel like to confront the 'toad' in his life: "Ah, were I courageous enough to shout, Stuff your pension! But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff that dreams are made on". This reminded me of what many people still do in present time. They talk with their friends and imagine scenarios of telling people what they actually think of them and act out what types of things they would say in the heat of the moment. Similarly to the speaker, they can never really say those things but it helps to be able to vent to someone. I took this poem as the speaker's way to vent about his frustration with society.


After we discussed this poem in class, I'll admit that it made much more sense to me than I made of it on my own. However, I am still not the biggest fan of Margaret Atwood's piece entitled "February". Personally, I found the poem to be quite conflicting and contradictory. The author criticized society for reproducing, comparing people to other animals and reducing them to the level of mere territorial house cats. She even went as far as to suggest that "Some cat owners around here should snip a few testicles. If we wise hominids were sensible, we'd do that too, or eat our young, like sharks." I'm sorry, but what? I felt like that suggestion went a little far. Comments such as that one led me to believe that perhaps Atwood was a feminist and did not agree with men's territorial nature. In general, the entire tone of the poem was negative and grumpy. This was one part of the poem that I could agree with based on the time of year. In the wintertime, people seem to be more inclined to want to be by themselves and not want to get up and do anything. Maybe it has something to do with the cold weather, but I can definitely relate to not wanting to leave my warm and cozy bed on frigid February mornings. I also thought it was ironic how she referenced the month of February as the "month of despair" because of the presence of Valentine's Day. I always find it interesting to see who enjoys and who hates that holiday each year because people's opinions are so varied. Apparently, the speaker is not too enraptured with the concept because she doesn't have someone to spend it with. At the end, I initially found it conflicting that she advised the audience to "Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring." This seemed completely contradictory to me from her earlier advice to stop procreating. Consequently, after it was discussed in class, it made more sense to me that she was advising the readers to get up and go do something about their unhappiness and get out of bed. I liked how she ended on a positive note after a predominantly negative poem.

Sweet Dreams

The format and pattern of the poem "A Dream Deferred" by Langston Hughes was greatly significant to its overall context and meaning. As a whole, the author seemed to be making an effort to cause readers to evaluate their own personal dreams. He did this by urging them to determine what types of dreams they possessed, and by prompting them not to defer them but to bring about a change from them instead. Through its format, the poem was divided into distinct phrases and thoughts. The speaker questioned the reader, asking questions which represented different dreams. The first question represented an opportunity that may present itself in one's life but last only a short time, drying up like a "raisin in the sun". The next symbolized the consequences of inaction and talked about a dream "festering like a sore". If individuals put off a problem that is important to them, eventually it will lead to some sort of unhappy ending. Whether that means a disagreement, violence, or something else is subjective to each reader. The next line, a comparison to rotten meat, demonstrates a dream set aside that will last or be remembered afterward. When Langston finally reaches the question about a sugary sweet, I linked it to a problem that may become partially solved or sugarcoated but is still present underneath the surface. When he switched the pattern of asking questions to one of making a statement, I felt like it emphasized his point even further. A "heavy load" is something that weighs one down, showing that ignoring acting upon one's dreams will only weigh a person down in the end. His metaphor in his last line shows the consequences of deferring dreams. By structuring his poem in this specific way, Langston Hughes added an element of emphasis to his writing. I stopped to think after I read each line, and I'm sure his intention was for his readers to do exactly that.

So about this liquor. . .

In Emily Dickinson's poem, "I taste a liquor never brewed", I found quite a few examples of figurative language. She compared several different aspects of nature to alcoholism, and through those comparisons she personified parts of nature to either be the heavy drinkers or the liquor itself. As I read the second stanza, I was reminded of a metaphor towards the sun. She writes that it is an "inebriate of air" and a "debauchee of dew", implying that whatever she's speaking of soaks up the dew from the earth and is surrounded by air. This logically means the sun to me. Also, as it is from "inns of molten blue", the speaker is saying that it is something in the sky. The third stanza took a slightly different course, personifying bees and butterflies. Emily calls the bees drunken after flying "out of the foxglove's door". Because the foxglove is a purple and white flower, it can be assumed that the bees are becoming drunk off of the nectar from the plants they drink. Then, at the end, I pieced all of the little clues together and came up with my own interpretation of this poem. In the final stanza, the speaker writes of seraphs and saints which are both considered to be heavenly beings. Once again, I was struck by the fact that she was referring to objects from above. I started thinking about different elements of nature in the sky, and realized that it made sense for this poem to be about clouds. The very last line, "to see the little tippler, leaning against the sun!", is what gave it away. The only thing that I know of that can soak up moisture and, figuratively speaking, lean against the sun would be clouds. And although it is helped by the sun, the second stanza could easily be about clouds as well. The idea of water being absorbed from the earth is the basis for most of the liquor referred to in this poem. The clouds are the inebriates of nature!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star...

Upon reading "Bright Star" by John Keats, I discerned the central theme of the poem to be a profession of the speaker's love towards his object of affection, or in other words, his one true love. At the beginning, the speaker discusses how he yearns to be "steadfast" like a star; however, it is not for the reasons one would expect. He does not want to be alone or forced to experience sleepless nights, or even to be high in the sky to admire all of the beautiful sights below. He mentions the oceans and snow-topped mountains, but they are not what capture his interest in being star-like. Instead, the speaker wants to be a star so that he can remain "still steadfast" and "still unchangeable" to the woman he loves. He also says he wants "to feel forever its [his fair love's breast] soft fall and swell, awake forever in a sweet unrest" with her. The speaker is clearly extremely devoted to this woman. It really shows the depth of his love that he goes as far as to wish he could emulate the unwavering qualities of a star in order to be with her forever. The contradiction of the paired words "sweet unrest" add further to the theme. Although the speaker did not want to endure sleepless nights, he showed how he would be willing to if it meant being with his love. The sleepless nights would become sweet rather than the lonely ones of an "Eremite".

Thursday, September 9, 2010

After Apple - Picking

"After Apple-Picking", by Robert Frost, was probably one of my favorites of the poems assigned to read. I really enjoyed his use of imagery, and liked how he was slightly more straightforward than the other poets. I took Mr. Frost's poem as a literary work that symbolized the cycle of life. The speaker talks of how he desired a large harvest but has become tired of working in the orchard: "For I have had too much of apple-picking: I am overtired of the great harvest I myself desired. There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch, cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall" (line 26-31). To me, this was a paralleled concept with the repetitiveness of life. Many people have desires in life; however, there often comes a time when they can become fatigued from the familiar cycle of it all. Professionally speaking, there are times when many individuals grow tired of doing the same tasks everyday. At home, others become weary from the everyday chores they have to complete. Generally speaking, a redundancy in anything fatigues people. This also connects with the reappearance of the word "sleep" throughout the poem. Just as the speaker becomes tired of his work, so do others with their cyclical lifestyles. I thought it was a clever way to enhance the theme of the poem.

A Widow's Purpose

Although there were probably many motivations for William Carlos Williams's (ha! his name is William Williams!) writing of "The Widow's Lament In Springtime", I thought that the purpose was for the speaker to deal with her sorrow and grief over the loss of her husband. Spring is normally perceived as a happy time of year, and this literary work put a negative spin on commonly cheerful aspects admired in nature. This made the speaker more relatable to the reader because springtime is when people are supposed to be happy, but sometimes in life there are circumstances in which people cannot be. The woman in the poem is clearly devastated over the loss of the love of her life. She no longer seems to have the will to live. Quite honestly, I found the speaker to be somewhat suicidal. If it weren't for the presence of her son, I'm not sure she would have found reason to go on. The references to her yard and the meadows also stood out to me. The widow spoke of how her yard used to bring her comfort when she spent time there with her husband, but not any longer. Through the opening lines, she wastes no time in admitting that "sorrow is my own yard... with the cold fire that closes round me this year", demonstrating her misery. When the meadows are referenced, she seems to like the idea of them because they are new and open spaces in which she has no memories to remind her of her loss. The recurring symbol of the white flowers also stood out to me. Right down to the last lines where the widow admits, "I feel that I would like to go there and fall into those flowers and sink into the marsh near them" she makes continual links to the white flowers and her husband. At the end, I take it as her way of saying she wishes she could join her husband and die along with him.

Springy Symbols

The aspect that I found most interesting was the use of symbolism in Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem entitled "Spring". The poem itself centered around admiration of the beauty of the season and I liked reading the lines of imagery which helped me imagine the setting. For instance, "the glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush the descending blue" (lines 6-7) was a picturesque way to describe blooming trees against the sky. The symbolism I found most significant was when Gerard compared spring to "Eden garden" (line 11) in the second stanza. Considering the garden of Eden is the epitome of beauty and was God's gift to the first humans on earth, I found that to be a powerful statement. It is also linked to the symbolism of youth and innocence which is carried over into the final stanza. The speaker tells the reader to "Have, get, [their innocence] before it cloy", which almost serves as a warning to hold on to our youth before it spoils. He speaks of sin and how it ruins the "innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy" (line 13). Basically, the poem sort of ends on a negative note after its beautiful beginning. "Spring" demonstrates how new life cannot be protected forever and how through enduring the hardships that must come with living we in turn sacrifice our youth.

Toning Down "Those Winter Sundays"

In my interpretation, the poem "Those Winter Days" by Robert Hayden took on a distinctive tone through its two short stanzas. The poem's descriptions such as the "blueblack cold", the father's "cracked hands that ached with labor", and the "cold splintering, breaking" of the weather were all words of pain, harshness, or some sort of cold reference. By the context of this poem, the household of the speaker does not sound like a pleasant one. There also seems to be a conflict between the boy and his father, but it is not elaborated upon. I thought that the speaker almost seemed regretful at some points in the poem. When he talks about all the work that his father did but how "no one ever thanked him" (line 5) it stirs sympathy from the readers for the father. He talks of "speaking indifferently" (line 10) towards his father as well which leads to further curiosity of their relationship. I got the vibe that this poem was written with the idea that the speaker is dealing with an inner conflict regarding his feelings towards his father, for reasons unknown to the audience.

Good Ole' Emily Dickinson

To kick off my first blog of the week, I thought I'd start with analyzing Emily Dickinson's writing techniques in the poem "I felt a Funeral, in my Brain". What struck me about this literary work was the fact that it is entirely composed as an extended metaphor. Although I was initially taking the poem more literally, after the class discussions this week I have come to a different, and overall better understanding of the work. The extended metaphor could be interpreted in a few contrastive ways, but I have chosen which I agree with the most. On one hand, the poem may be hinting at a migraine or a more physical pain. The reference of the service being "like a Drum" which "kept beating-beating till I thought my My Mind was going numb" (lines 7-8) could be referring to the pounding sensation of a migraine headache. Later, when Emily says "Then Space-began to toll, as all the Heavens were a Bell" (lines 9-10) I could see this also being a reference to the pain of hearing loud sounds while enduring a migraine.
The interpretation that I personally feel best fits this poem is the idea that it is about a person having a mental breakdown or going insane. I think that many details support this idea, starting with the fact that the speaker is inside the box (or more appropriately, a casket) throughout the duration of the poem. When people are mentally ill, it is almost as if they have died because they are not truly themselves anymore. In this way, I linked it to the fact that the speaker is talking through a vantage point of already having died. Also, at the end I interpreted Dickinson's abrupt ending as the person's realization of their illness. I think that they became aware of the fact that they were growing insane and then died afterwards from their affliction. Her last lines, "And then a Plank in Reason, broke, and I dropped down, and down... And Finished knowing" show that the speaker died knowing they had grown insane.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Perrine's Poetry Perspective

As I read through Perrine's article for the first time, I was definitely intrigued by his thoughts. In "The Nature of Proof in the Interpretation of Poetry", he makes several bold statements that made me stop and think about how I analyze poetry myself. Quite honestly, I'm usually not very skilled at determining the meaning of poetry, and more often then not, I end up way off-target. I agree with Perrine's statement that "there are no correct or incorrect readings [of poetry]: there are only readings which differ more or less widely from a statistical norm." This makes sense, and I like how he emphasized that there is technically no "wrong" way to interpret a poem. As for his approach to determining "correct" interpretations, I would have to say that I agree with him. It is a logical method and I cannot think of another way which satisfies the process in a better form. According to Perrine, the meaning discerned must account for every detail in the poem and must also rely on the fewest assumptions made outside the text. If one were to figure out what the author originally meant to express in their poetry, then both of these circumstances would apply.
A concept that stuck with with me after reading this article was how a poet never likes to be asked to explain his own poems. Although I had never stopped to think about it before, that is an incredibly true statement. Whenever ones are asked about the meaning of their works, they find a way to avoid answering. This is because knowing the real purpose behind a poem can diminish its value afterward. In addition, the real meaning may come across as much less than what the poem said itself. Since this point has been brought to my attention, I can now see why they leave it for their readers to interpret alone. Another aspect I agreed with Perrine upon was his discussion of symbols. I liked how he stated that two symbols cannot mean just anything, they must represent something that specifically applies to the work at hand. Because a symbol is an increased area of meaning, it must stay within boundaries that apply to the poem being discussed. Every symbol must have a logical interpretation that falls within the limits of those boundaries.
From now on, I will keep Perrine's tactics in mind while analyzing poetry. Hopefully it will help me out a little!